Teachers' Unions Bringing Reform Issues to Bargaining Table

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As teacher-contract negotiations proceed this spring, union leaders across the country report that the reform movement is giving a new legitimacy to their longstanding efforts to improve salaries and working conditions, and that in some districts teachers have made startling gains in these areas.

But in addition to reforms that serve the professional interests of teachers, the union leaders say collective bargaining has begun to provide teachers with some leverage in the institution and development of some of the broader reforms recommended in the recent national reports on excellence, such as longer school days, higher educational standards, a core curriculum, and educational programs for "at-risk" children.

In fact, to increase their role in shaping reform-related instructional issues, teachers in some areas are now working to change state collective-bargaining laws that limit the scope of negotiations to hours, wages, and working conditions.

"Reform has got to come from the teachers," said Mardi Schroer, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. "Unless we have a chance to buy into it, reform won't be successful."

Nevertheless, Ms. Schroer said, teachers' groups are encountering some administrative opposition to allowing teachers policymaking prerogatives.

"The administration won't even discuss some of these issues with us," she said.

But despite opposition in some quarters, the use of collective bargaining to achieve reforms is "a trend all across the country," according to Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers. The aft, Mr. Shanker added, is conducting workshops in several states to encourage such activity.

Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the nea, said that many of that association's state and local affiliates, too, are using the collective-bargaining process as a means of instituting recommendations made in national reports.

Union negotiators in several states cited a "receptive climate" created by the education-reform movement and noted the recent successes of some locals in incorporating reforms into their contracts.

Fruitful Bargaining

Officials of the Hartford (Conn.) Federation of Teachers say, for example, that contract negotiations with the school board this spring resulted in one of the most fruitful bargaining sessions the teachers have ever had.

"It was an unusually successful year," said Timothy C. Murphy, president of the union. "The emphasis on reform was very important--the national debate on the need to increase salaries and improve working conditions, the emphasis on professionalization. I think we made some significant gains there."

The Governor's Distinguished Citizens' Task Force on Quality Teaching, established by Gov. William A. O'Neill, a Democrat, issued a report last year that also helped Hartford teachers make their case before the school board, Mr. Murphy said.

The teachers' four-year contract, scheduled to take effect on July 1, provides an average salary increase of 64 percent over the next four years. Under the new contract, teachers' salaries in Hartford will range next school year from $14,400 to $31,000; by 1988-89, the salary range will be $23,000 to $50,000.

"We also made a significant attempt at creating a career ladder," Mr. Murphy said. By 1988-89, the number of steps on the salary scale will have been reduced from 13 to six, and five new salary "lanes" will be in place offering teachers advancement on the basis of their educational attainment.

Other Reforms Addressed

Teachers in Hartford also successfully addressed issues in some less traditional areas of collective bargaining, Mr. Murphy said.

For example, their new contract requires the district to lengthen the school day by one class period for extra coursework and ensures that teachers will not have classes of more than 25 students.

The Hartford teachers also brought President Reagan's call for a return to "good, old-fashioned discipline" to the table; the new contract makes the school's strict discipline policy subject to binding arbitration.

"That means we can force the administrators to enforce it," Mr. Murphy explained.

But the contract, which will cost the school system $209 million over the next four years, has hit a snag, Mr. Murphy said. The Hartford City Council filed suit last month against both the Hartford Board of Education and the union, claiming that the contract circumvents the council's right of review. The council is seeking an injunction to prevent the contract from going into effect as scheduled. (See Education Week, May 1, 1985.)

In seeking to incorporate reform measures into their contracts, local teachers' unions are, in many cases, receiving strategic and technical help from their state organizations.

Harry Van Houdnos, a senior researcher with the Illinois Education Association, is developing an unconventional salary schedule for teachers' bargaining in that state that would seek the largest increases in the maximum salary for teachers with a master's degree, rather than for entry-level teachers, as is generally the case.

"Our intention," he said, "is to focus on improving the compensation for the career teacher, the backbone of the teaching profession."

The Wisconsin Education Association is also developing a reform-oriented negotiating strategy that can be adapted by locals, said Donna Ullman, director of collective bargaining for the nea affiliate.

And in the last round of collective bargaining in Washington State, locals were encouraged to use the Washington Education Association's report, "Educational Renewal for Washington's Future," as a basis for negotiations, according to John A. Cahill, wea's communications director.

Among its recommendations, the report included a call for the institution of a "balanced core curriculum specifically designed to provide a strong foundation for study in English-language development and writing, computational and problem-solving skills, science, social studies, foreign languages, physical education, and the arts."

But because the state's collective-bargaining law limits the scope of bargaining to "wages, hours, and working conditions," Mr. Cahill said, teachers had to approach reforms related to instructional issues indirectly, sometimes bending customary definitions.

"We can negotiate class size, not because it is academically sound, but because it is related to working conditions," he said.

Some locals attempted to get at the curriculum issue by bargaining over teachers' "academic freedom," he said, and toughening academic standards was addressed in some districts by "firming up" teachers' authority over grading.

aft affiliates in Illinois also will bring the state organization's reform plan to the bargaining table this spring.

Some of the reform proposals announced late last month in the Illinois Federation of Teachers' plan, "lend themselves" very well to bargaining, said Robert Healey, president of the ift

One such reform, Mr. Healey said, addresses the needs of "the school dropout."

"Early intervention methods must be developed and implemented for students who exhibit behavior associated with potential dropouts," according to the ift's reform plan. "Schools need to have the resources for diagnosis and treatment and teachers must have access to social workers, counselors, school nurses, and school psychologists for consultation about their students."

The plan also calls for preschool programs and full-day kindergarten in every school district. Mr. Healey said, however, that the teachers cannot bring such a proposal to the table "if the state refuses to pay for it."

Bargaining Scope

In many states, the scope of negotiations is so severely limited that union leaders say they must seek changes in the collective-bargaining laws before they can attempt to address instructional issues.

In Iowa, which has one of the nation's most restrictive collective-bargaining laws, teachers have just completed a successful effort to expand the scope of negotiable items. The legislature this month approved the measure, including for the first time such issues as preparation time, incentive programs, training and education benefits, and job classifications in the bargaining process.

"But that still doesn't get us into the instructional area very much," acknowledged William Sherman, a spokesman for the Iowa State Education Association.

Issue of Control

But such efforts to obtain more "teacher control" over instructional matters are not getting universal approval from state and local administrators, according to union leaders.

Denver school-board members reportedly were "stunned and flabbergasted" when they first saw the contract proposal the union brought to the table.

"We are trying to have professional input into the decisions made by the school district," said Ms. Schroer, the president of the Denver nea affiliate. "Our teachers feel greater teacher input is necessary for reform."

But board members found the contract language so objectionable, Ms. Schroer said, that in March they released to the Rocky Mountain News an 11-page administrative analysis of the proposal, in violation of a provision in the current contract that prohibits either party from discussing the negotiations.

Although board members said they could not comment on the negotiations, one unidentified board member was quoted in the Rocky Mountain News at the time the memorandum was released as saying the teachers "were trying to run the district."

The union's proposal included a top salary of $67,000, a provision that would give teachers some influence over the distribution of money to schools, and the establishment of committees of teachers and administrators to approve new curricula and testing programs.

The initial proposal also sought limits of 15 students in kindergarten and 1st-grade classes, 20 students in 2nd- and 3rd-grade classes, and 30 students in grades 4-12, Ms. Schroer confirmed.

Administrative Opposition

While administrators are often willing to incorporate mutually acceptable reforms into teachers' contracts, money is an obstacle in many districts, said August W. Steinhilber, general counsel to National School Boards Association, who closely follows collective-bargaining issues.

"In states caught up with a Proposition 13 or a Proposition 2 where there is no money, there is not a lot they can do," he noted.

But Mr. Steinhilber also contended that union locals that are sincere about pursuing reforms of the sort proposed in recent reports are rare.

"Every time we talk about reform and better quality, the unions use collective bargaining to ensure that reform doesn't take place," he maintained.

Even when the unions "talk" reform, such as in supporting proposals for career ladders, Mr. Steinhilber said, "they just use the name to move everyone up in the financial sense."

"Ask them if they support moving a teacher who doesn't do well back down to where the base salary is, and you'll find that the answer is no," he said.

Career Ladders

Union leaders in many districts argue, however, that they are quite serious about using career ladders to encourage the best teachers to stay in the profession.

One example is the new contract for Toledo, Ohio, teachers, which provides for the development of a voluntary career ladder, said Dal Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, an aft affiliate.

The contract also allows the teachers to elect "mentor" teachers who are responsible for overseeing first-year teaching interns and will decide whether the interns will be hired on a permanent basis.

While the specifics of the program are to be worked out in further negotiations with the board, Mr. Lawrence said that salaries on the high end of the career ladder will be "huge" and that few teachers will qualify.

"We don't see the career ladder as a gimmick to pay a little money to a lot of people," he said. "We are trying to get rid of the idea that for teachers to be successful they have to leave the classroom. We don't want them to become principals, we want them in the classroom for 30 years doing excellent work."

The teachers' three-year contract, which was settled in February, is really an extension of reforms the district has been working on for several years, according to Mr. Lawrence.

In 1981, as a product of collective bargaining, the Toledo school system began using a master-teacher program in which senior teachers advise, supervise, and evaluate new teachers. The master teacher's evaluation largely decides whether the new teachers are rehired. The master teachers are chosen jointly by the president of the union and the school district's director of personnel. (See Education Week, Oct. 27, 1982.)

Teachers in greater Miami also are working toward education re3form through their collective-bargaining efforts, said Pat Tornillo, president of Florida Education Association United and chief negotiator for the aft's Dade County affiliate.

Merit Schools

The union recently completed negotiations for the implementation in the district of Florida's merit-school program, a statewide reform effort developed and subsidized by the legislature that requires school districts and teachers to negotiate agreements about participating.

Dade teachers like the plan because it "creates a team effort," said Mr. Tornillo. "It doesn't pit teacher against teacher."

About 30 of the state's 67 school districts have agreed to participate in the program. Most of the participating districts are represented by aft affiliates.

John Ryor, executive director of the nea-affiliated Florida Teaching Profession, said his union urged the 34 districts it represents not to participate in the program.

Mr. Ryor called the program "counterproductive" and argued that such merit programs should be tested selectively before being implemented statewide.

'Quality Circles'

The Dade County aft affiliate also will work toward obtaining more teacher "input" in this spring's collective bargaining, Mr. Tornillo said, and will bring to the table a proposal to greatly expand teachers' role in decisionmaking.

The teachers want to change the district's "faculty councils" into "quality circles," Mr. Tornillo explained.

"That has been in many of the national reports," he said. "You've got to give teachers a chance to use their professional judgment."

The Ohio Federation of teachers is using collective bargaining to expand the teachers' role in decisionmaking, said Ronald Merac, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

During the past year, Mr. Merec said, local affiliates have negotiated internship programs for new teachers, pilot peer-review and career-ladder programs, class-size limits, and established "solid grading and discipline policies."

"We believe," he said, "that a teachers' union should do more than bargain for good salaries--it should work to create an environment where teachers function as professionals and students receive the best education possible."

Vol. 04, Issue 34

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